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Amendment 2 would exempt some POWs from paying property taxes

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 25, 2010 - Missourians on Nov. 2 will vote on Constitutional Amendment 2, whose approval would exempt POWs with service-related disabilities from having to pay property taxes.

State Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, got the measure on the ballot by successfully ushering a bill through the Missouri Legislature.

It's unclear how many people would actually benefit. The population of potential beneficiaries is already small and shrinking. The Missouri Legislature's fiscal note for Chappelle-Nadal's bill estimates that just 200 former POWs with total service-related disabilities live in Missouri. And of the 200, maybe 70 percent -- or about 140 -- own homes and thus would qualify for the tax break, the fiscal note says.

The number of potential beneficiaries and the eligibility requirements are precisely why Amendment 2 has some concerned about the potential for fraud and crying foul about special carve-outs for a select group of people.

Among the measure's supporters is the Missouri Family Network, which argues that even if only a few people benefit, the cause is noble and would come at a small cost to taxpayers.

"However, no matter how many or how few, we the free men and women of Missouri should be more than willing to corporately pick up the minor cost of supporting these heroes," the group said in a statement endorsing the proposition.

The Missouri Department of Revenue already offers a property-tax credit for Missourians who are totally disabled because of military service, provided they earn less than $30,000 a year if they're single and $34,000 if they're married. Renters who meet those criteria can receive up to $750 if they rent and homeowners who meet the criteria and live in their homes can receive up to $1,100.

The existence of that tax credit is one reason a group called POW Network has serious concerns about the amendment and the Kansas City Star came out in opposition to the amendment in late September.

Mary Schantag of POW Network argues the measure "comes very close to duplicating the tax credit already on the books for any disabled vet."

The paper's editorial board also notes the amendment would place unfair enforcement burdens on local governments, which would have to determine whether applicants meet the criteria. With that concern comes the potential for fraud: "[S]ome veterans groups are concerned that these kinds of monetary privileges would encourage people to falsely claim POW status or exaggerate their disabilities."

The Missouri Libertarian Party and Missouri Citizens for Tax Justice have also come out against Amendment 2. In opposing the amendment, the Libertarians call it a form of "political pandering" for targeting only disabled POWs.

"Arguments can be made to exempt many less fortunate groups from property taxes, so why this one?" the party's statement says.

Schantag also called the measure "tunnel visioned" in restricting the benefits to totally disabled POWs: "Why not a Medal of Honor recipient? Why not a Purple Heart?"

Chappelle-Nadal did not return several phone calls from the Beacon. She did recently tell the Bolivar Herald-Free Press, "This is just a way to say thank you to our veterans. I just wanted to do my part to be thankful to them."

Chappelle-Nadal, who is running unopposed in Missouri's 14th state Senate District, also told the Herald-Free Press she'd try to pass legislation next session defining the term "POW" to reduce the likelihood of fraudulent applications for benefits.

Amendment 2

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to require that all real property used as a homestead by Missouri citizens who are former prisoners of war and have a total service-connected disability be exempt from property taxes?

The number of qualified former prisoners of war and the amount of each exemption are unknown, however, because the number who meet the qualifications is expected to be small, the cost to local governmental entities should be minimal. Revenue to the state blind pension fund may be reduced by $1,200.

Fair Ballot Language:

A "yes" vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to exempt from property taxes all real property used as a homestead by any Missouri citizen who is a former prisoner of war with a total service-connected disability.

A "no" vote will not add this exemption to the Missouri Constitution.

If passed, this measure will decrease property taxes for qualified citizens.

Puneet Kollipara was an intern at the Beacon.